The playing field


    If your child can play a musical instrument, preferably somewhere between “My Dog Has Fleas” and the complete Paganini Caprices, it may be time to send him or her off to play with an orchestra.

    Gregory Fried, conductor of New West Youth Symphony, is auditioning young musicians Monday and Tuesday. The groups rehearse throughout the school year on Tuesdays after school.

    “One of the things we’ve done this year is to move the location,” he stresses. The groups rehearse in Thousand Oaks, just off the 101 Freeway at Moorpark Road. He draws orchestra members from Ojai to Malibu to West L.A.

    “We have a number of people coming from Malibu now, so we can work out carpool arrangements,” he says. Malibu musicians include Catherine Calvert, Kimi Cox, Samantha Posey and Raquel Ravaglioli

    Fried works the students into different ensembles. The youngest group, starting with second graders, is called Strictly Strings, “a beginning ensemble experience, so kids have a chance to learn how to follow the conductor and listen to other kids as they play.” They rehearse from 4:15 to 5:15 p.m.

    “This is a great chance for kids to have a first experience actually playing a symphonic masterpiece, which is much more interactive, if I can borrow from the computer world. My theory is that music is interactive. Your violin will let you know if you play a wrong note.”

    The main group is the symphony, which includes mainly high school students. It rehearses from 5:30 to 7:20 p.m. “We draw from that group for a premiere chamber orchestra, Avanti!, which includes the most experienced strings in the group, although we sometimes allow winds.” Avanti! rehearses from 7:30 to 8 p.m.

    The repertoire of the groups includes standard orchestral repertoire for the symphony, but for Strictly Strings, Fried says it is student repertoire, “carefully selected so it’s challenging but playable.”

    Fried also teaches violin and viola privately. I tell the students, ‘It sounds like you practiced,’ or ‘It sounds like you could have practiced more.’ Then, I check in with the kids to see if they practiced.

    “You have to understand, these kids have many more commitments than I had when I was a kid. There’s a balance you have to reach, knowing kids will have conflicts with school functions, that I have to honor.

    “Yet, at the same time, if the kids are not living up to their potential, I have to show them what they’re capable of. It’s a combination of being understanding and cajoling, a whole universe that effective conductors must engage in.”

    He says most important is maintaining a sense of humor, and he insists rehearsals are fun.

    The maestro has a doctorate in orchestral conducting from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was conductor of the chamber orchestra of The String Project, an internationally known unit. He taught violin and conducted at the college level for 10 years. He also served as assistant conductor with the Ventura Symphony.

    “I’ve gone through stages,” he says. “Originally, I wanted to be a violinist. Then I thought I wanted to be more marketable. I saw what the student conductors were doing at Indiana University. For my master’s, I got a violin and conducting degree. After I started conducting, I decided on conducting. There were so many more possibilities for molding sound.”

    He says he plays less now that he has children. His 2-year-old daughter is studying cello, his 5-year-old plays violin.

    Of their level of interest, he says, “At that age, it’s hard to tell. My son misses it when he doesn’t do it. Occasionally, they request a practice.”

    The symphony’s first concert of the year is set for Dec. 17. Select members will play “1812 Overture” with the adult symphony.

    Auditions for the New West Youth Symphony will be held at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Aug. 30 (strings) and Aug. 31 (winds). “But I’m going to be flexible with that if people can’t make it one day or the other,” says Fried. The audition slots begin at 4 p.m. and Fried requests they be by appointment. Tel. 818.735.0004.